December 13, 2015 by Rob Gardiner
I have recently taken to saying that I’m a ‘retired’ cycle tourist. I like being retired from something – if not work – at the age of 26. It also sounds a lot more mundane and far less pretentious than saying I have cycled around the world. Unfortunately, it may no longer be entirely accurate. After all, most retirees don’t cycle across Gabon. And that is exactly what I will be doing over Christmas.
At this point, the question usually requiring an answer is ‘Why?’ However, one friend recently asked, “What is Gabon?” So I might need to begin with a brief introduction to my choice of destination.
Gabon is a rainforest-covered country in West Africa. Straddling the equator, it is peaceful, rich in oil and home to a healthy chunk of the region’s wildlife. Although remarkable for its biodiversity and landscape, it remains unremarkable in many other ways. Ethnic strife is yet to tear the country apart, Ebola is noticeably absent and the country’s Muslims are pretty relaxed about western education. In short, Gabon has stayed out of the news for exactly the right reasons.
But it is not the country’s passive populace that has drawn me to it. No, it was the words “Not another bloody Gabon enquiry”. They were uttered by Chris, my colleague at Steppes Travel. He was genuinely annoyed, and this baffled me. Enquiries are a good thing in the world of travel; he ought to have been overjoyed.
However, I soon understood. Gabon is blank, green, forested space on the map. A space that even beyond-the-ordinary travel considers largely out of bounds. Famed for hippos dancing in the Atlantic surf, forest elephants that claim it as their last sanctuary and painted-face mandrills that gather in their thousands, this tropical Eden attracts interest, but remains beyond the reach of most.
Unexplored. Inaccessible. Out of bounds. This was like offering fine-grade opium to a recovering addict; I was hooked. A growing energy began to form in my dormant legs – a feeling that I assume is common to all wanderlusting cyclists. Before I knew what was happening, a map was ordered, a holiday request was approved and flights to Libreville were booked.
Leaving cold, wet England behind on 20th December, I will fly to hot, wet Gabon. In spite of numerous emails and attempts to discover what may greet me, I am still largely in the dark. I know that Chinese investment has cut a network of well-laid roads deep into the forest. I know that French influences run strong. I know that bushmeat is a dietary staple. I know that Gustav Eiffel has contributed to the country’s architecture. But that hardly prepares me. And I know little more.
However, jungle-ready hammock in tow, I hope to pedal my way deep into Gabon’s mysterious interior. Pygmies, ivory poachers, loggers and forest elephants – all quite possibly high on locally grown iboga – may well greet me. But who knows? Whatever I discover amidst the trees of this equatorial country, I’m sure that adventures await me.
P.S. For non-cycling related adventures, check out a blog about my experiences in Rwanda, where I went gorilla trekking.